My eyes were transfixed on the city that lay below me, a city where I haven't been able to find company despite my residency for several years. A thick drizzle was swirling to the ground and caused streetlights and headlights and bright banners to glint as their colors mingled together.
I leaned my head against the windowpane, half wishing that it wasn't there so I could fall to the ground with the rain. I brought a cigarette to my lips to take a drag and I could feel the smoke help to soothe me. I ran my other hand through my hair and wondered about what I was to do. Nothing made sense and any thinking flirted dangerously with a growing headache.
The air in my apartment was musky and stagnant and I needed to get out. It didn't take me long to grow impatient staring out the window but I had no other place to go. Still, I reached down into my pocket and fished for my keys and lighter. After discarding my cigarette butt into a dish, I was out the door. I took the elevator up to the roof, a place where I've never actually bothered to go before. My hair was whipped around by the wind as the door opened, exposing me to a murky night sky. There wasn't anything up here except for exhaust vents clanging and puffing steam into the air, but instead of turning to go back down, I started for the edge of the building.
Tentatively, I stuck my head over the railing. I almost instantly wanted to pull my head back, but for some reason, I couldn't bring myself to do that. I stared straight down to see a mews devoid of any people. Looking up, I saw through a window of an adjacent building to see a group of people standing around a kitchen counter and throwing back laughter as each person spoke.
I took a cigarette to my mouth and lit it; the moisture in the air made it difficult for the flame to catch but before long, I was on my fourth one. I stood there in solitude for the duration and watched the people enjoy themselves.
The mist had turned into a drizzle and soon I became wet and cold. Before I could catch an illness, I turned back to head inside. I dropped my cigarette and gasped audibly when I saw a young woman standing behind me.
"Jesus," I said more to myself than to the girl. "You scared the hell out of me." She looked up at me with large eyes. Her hair was soaked by the rain and she looked wet to the bone.
"Yeah, well so did you. This is my space," she said accusingly, to which I raised an eyebrow.
"Your space? Who said it belongs to you?"
"Me." She crossed her arms and looked like she was about to pounce at me, but then her facial features softened and she giggled.
"Well too bad that it's resident property," I said jokingly. She scowled and moved to my side and leaned over the edge of the building like I had been doing just seconds before.
"What were you doing?"
"Nothing, really. I just came up here to think."
"Good. For a while it looked like you wanted to jump."
"I wouldn't've," I said, turning to face her. Her eyes still remained fixed on the ground below us.
"Good. If you were ever to do something silly like that, at least do it in style." Her eyes seemed to glass over and she smiled to herself before turning back to face me. Her words surprised me and for a second I didn't know what to say. "Well, it's true," she said to fill the silence. "Don't do it from one of these smelly apartments. Wear your nicest suit, go to the top of the tallest building, and do a back flip off the side. At least, that's what I would do."
I looked at her perplexedly. From where she was standing, the orange light emanating from beside the elevator lit up her face and I took that as an opportunity to take in her facial features. She had cherry red hair and lipstick to match. Her nose was small but sharp and she had a jaw line that met to form a square chin. She moved a hand up to clear some hair from her face and I noticed a tattoo of a spider on the back of it.
"You have no sense of humor!" She squinted in my direction. "So obviously something's wrong. What's up?"
"Nothing that should concern you," I said, taking out two cigarettes. "You smoke?" The girl in front of me shook her head and looked at the cigarettes in disgust.
"Gross." I rolled my eyes and brought the lighter to the cigarette. "It probably concerns you, though. And when people have problems, they should talk about them."
"I don't think talking to a stranger is going to fix things. And besides, didn't your parents ever tell you not to talk to strange men who smoke near the edges of buildings in the rain?" I chuckled softly and it was her turn to roll her eyes.
"I'm not that young, you know. Talking to strangers is good."
"Sure, whatever." The girl glared at me and for a second I almost thought she was about to come up and pinch me.
"We're social people, all of us. When we have problems we need to talk things out. Get a second opinion, you know? And a lot of the time when our friends and family and high school sweethearts are too shitty to be there for us, there's always going to be a stranger out there who will sit and listen."
"I'm not exactly one to pour out my feelings to anyone. I don't even know your name."
"It's Harper. But pretend I didn't say that. It'll make us seem more like strangers this way." Harper took a small step away from me and looked up at the rain falling from thick clouds above us. "You'll feel better if you just vent out a bit."
"You probably won't leave until I do," I mused.
"That's right. And don't you think about going back downstairs because I'll follow you." I sighed outwardly, almost unsure if she was being serious.
"Life can be so overrated sometimes. I hate my job, and I hate, hate how uneventful my days are. I do well at it, my job. But doing something so unfulfilling after a while will start to make anyone feel empty. Like a mannequin." I took a drag from my cigarette and exhaled the smoke. The wind carried it back in my face and it caused my eyes to burn slightly. "It pisses me off. And what's shitty is that none of us can do anything about it."
Harper now looked at me intently, for the first time, in the eyes. "Have you ever thought of leaving? Quitting your job, packing your bags, taping your key to your front door and just running off somewhere?"
"I don't think it's that easy."
"Isn't it, though? Nobody is stopping you from being yourself, from what it seems, but yourself," Harper said. "You don't know that you have the control of your life. I'm sure all your life people have done things for you and said 'do this, don't do that,' and after hearing the same things over and over so that you expect to hear people say it, you start to believe it. You actually think that you have no control over your life." Harper sighed and looked down at the ground. "You can't let other people in your life run it for you; you have your own thoughts for a reason."
I sighed, took a last drag from my cigarette, and pulverized it once it was on the ground.
"You can't just pack up and leave once things become too stressful, though. That's not how life works."
"Maybe. But then that's when you collect yourself and open your eyes," Harper reasoned. "Look at this place. It's a shit hole of a city that rests on a beautiful planet. Have you ever explored? I mean really take the time to notice the beauty that surrounds us all? Try it sometime. This place won't seem to be so much of a grimy, smoggy city. The world truly is a splendor; it just requires us to see it in a different way sometimes. I promise that doesn't make it evil." To my surprise, Harper got up from leaning on the railing and started her way toward the elevator.
"Where are you going," I asked.
"I'm starting to get cold."
"We're not done talking."
"For tonight, we are. We'll meet again, this I know. Before you come down, I want you to take a look, a good look, at what's surrounding you."
And this I did. The rain didn't stop falling, and I didn't stop being cold. Harper was right, though. The skyline was nice, bright. I looked up to the adjacent building to see the people who were talking earlier. They had now huddled together around what appeared to be a laptop and seemed genuinely happy. I looked one last time at the sky to see a dart of lightning throw itself across the sky, illuminating it with its white light. I closed my eyes and breathed calmly and for one of the first times in a while, I felt calm. When the thunder cracked and caused me to jump slightly, I opened my eyes, called for the elevator, and made my way back home.
"Simple" by Kaitlin Jacobson
I belong to a family of immigrants. Simple enough. Immigrants whose travel spans hundreds of years and five different countries. Not so simple. And yet, the question of my identity is supposed to be simple. After all, I’m a part of the majority. Questions aren’t asked here. The answers are assumed. All is well, and that’s that. Leave the ambiguous questions to the minority, to those who have a greater cause for questions than I do.
Yet here I sit, letting identity fight its way through the cracks between unanswered questions and assumed answers. My mind wrestles with dates, experiences, and places as I search with increasing desperation for who I am. For where I belong. And how can I truthfully answer that question? When, as a majority, it’s as if I don’t even have the right to ask the question.
However – for the moment, let’s forget the rules of society. Let’s forget the fact that I am a majority. What would I say? When my roots, the basis of who I am, are spread across the world and time. It turns out the answer isn’t so simple.
I am a Swiss-Norwegian-Irish-English-German who, for all intents and purposes, was raised in small-town Wisconsin while growing up in the suburbs of Chicago.
I am a Jacobson. A Siegenthaler. A Steensland, Morrissey, and Xander. I am a part of the stories that go back generations, across oceans, and are buried deep in the land. For I do not belong to a place. Not the place I was born, not the places I have lived. No. I belong nowhere. I admit this freely. Identity, my identity, lies with people. People whom I will never meet. People whom I haven’t yet met. People who lie between both ends of the spectrum.
But society wants simple from the majority, not complex. The minority are the ones who have the questions and answers colored in shades of grey. Not me. So who am I? Simple. I am American. Nothing more. Nothing less.
"This Blank Page" by Rachel Janis
This blank page staring back at me is scary. It’s waiting desperately for me to fill it up with inspirational words – words that will string together into sentences, form into paragraphs, and tell a story that will last three hundred pages about a heroic journey of a misunderstood girl, trying to fight back against the people who tell her she can’t.
The plot line and ideas and sequences all play back in my head, and I flip it over and over again as if an over-easy egg, letting the yolk seep out onto this blank page. But it doesn’t. The ideas stay in there, snuggled comfortably on the very borderlines of my brain, one step away from becoming inaccessible. I reach and grasp for it, begging it to stay, pleading for my fingers to regurgitate the information and create a story of the century – one already threaded countless times into my thoughts, my experiences, my life, but one that is stubborn. One that won’t budge. One that wants to live unheard, that’s too afraid to come out and speak, reveal its weak body, allow itself to get stronger with the anxious eyes that wait for it.
Please, mind, unleash yourself. Go on a rant. Puke out all the hurt and pain and sadness but also those glints of happiness – the sparkle of the dew on the park bench, the one surviving leaf on a drooping tree. Let me hear it. Let them hear it. I know you’re in there, and I know you want to come out and let everyone know what you’re thinking. It may not be so good on the first draft or the second or the third, but I will fix it up. I will fix it up and I will make it perfect. It’ll be beautiful – a painting without color. It’ll be beyond beautiful, the unspoken voice but the visible words scaling across the page: black against white, tragedy against purity, cacophony against rhythm. Let your pulse beat, let your feet hit the ground, and when you get tired, let me carry you. Your words are important; please let them show. I won’t let you down.
I’ll take you to the top. Don’t let that blank page intimidate you. Reveal your story. Sell the tragedy. Force the tears and widen the smiles. I’m there, you’re here, and you’re ready to write.
"Happy Birthday, America" by Christie Jeung
Every year, Lieutenant Frederick Ross spends the fourth of July settin' on his front porch in all the glory of his military uniform. Don’t matter if somebody having an Independence Day cookout down the street complete with chicken and applesauce and lemonade and mama Williams’ best pies. Don’t matter what sorta parades the young'uns were carrying out along the roads. Rain or shine, he's in his chair out front, his finery creatin' some aura of dignified stoicism around him, even as he occasion'lly draws a fat cigar to his wrinkled lips.
This afternoon, his imperious gaze oversees a handful of the neighborhood children chasing one another down the bluegrass-trimmed sidewalk, the girls decked out in their best blue and red gingham dresses and the boys sportin' patriotic scarves for the day. "Happy July the fourth, Mister Ross," they call out as they fly across his lawn.
"Happy fourth and God bless you all," he musters the greeting in return, his voice gruff with age and weariness. "And it's Lieutenant Ross to y'all."
Not that any of those youngsters are old enough to remember the war. See, they like him 'cause every year on this day, he go into his house in the evening after settin' all afternoon, and he and his wife, Eliza, come out with a terrific box o' fireworks. After that, they set around some more with them fireworks on the lawn. at exactly midnight, he take his gun outta that uniform and right as he fires a shot in the air, all them fireworks go off in a great shower of flying color so the night's all sparklin' as he kisses his wife. The neighbors and children gather round every year for this spectacle as this ain't an everyday occurrence in South Carolina.
Tonight ain't any old Fourth-o'-July night, though, because Lieutenant Ross is especially brusque and worn-out, even for the seventy-two year old man he is, and the whole town knows why. There ain't a soul who dare mention it aloud so as to hurt anyone's feelings, but today is his first independence day without his darling Eliza, and everybody's silently curious as to how them fireworks are gonna be without her by his side.
Some of the children watch as he gets up from his chair, works his way 'cross the porch, heads inside the house, and emerges with that annual box o' fireworks. Instead of easin' back down into his chair, though, he goes back in an' brings out another box. And another. This year is gonna be quite the show.
Quite the show indeed, the lieutenant muses as the gathering children gape at the enormous pile of fireworks on the lawn. I’m gonna make Eliza happy tonight.
The only difference between this year and all the others was that the gunshot was aimed at Lieutenant Ross' temple, not the air. As his fingers crushed the trigger, he gave his country one last farewell. Happy birthday, America. Happy damn birthday.
"Rosemary Tears" by Christie Jeung
As she combed through the rosemary patch in her garden under the crisp midmorning sun, Marianne took special care to select the freshest, most shapely leaves. Richard used to help her harvest the herbs when he was little, she thought as she hummed "Scarborough Fair" to herself. While her wrinkled fingers mingled with the woodsy scent of her favorite herb, she recalled how his eyes would light up every time she called to him, "Richard? Could you get some rosemary from the garden?" because he knew that whenever his mama made that request, there would be rosemary chicken for supper that evening.
She dabbed away a tear that had formed unbeknownst to her until now. Her Richard was a man now--had a pretty thing of a wife, two charming kids in grade school, and a perfect little house in the suburbs where they let her stay now. Mostly Kentucky bluegrass dominated the lawn, but of course they let her make a garden out back. He had a nine-to-five job in the city, so he mostly helped her on weekends when the kids didn't have to be driven to parties or soccer tournaments, but even those occasional hours with him seemed to be less and less frequent lately.
Now, Marianne, don't you get so sentimental, she chided herself, sighing. Working through the rheumatism in her knee, she slowly stood up and resolutely walked into the house with a smile in her eyes, if not on her lips. She was making the family rosemary chicken tonight.
"Burnt" by Ashley Lee
I told myself not to get close.
I've done it too many times. I thought I'd learned, I thought this time would be different.
I built this structure of mine; this elaborate, intricate, unique me i wasn't ready to share. But I should have felt the heat; the warmth that was warning me.
He doesn't want me.
It's probably the way I'm so damn insecure with myself. Or how I'm always complaining. Or because my skin isn't light enough to see, and my eyes are too dark to make eye contact. and my hair; that Afro sure won't attract anyone. what about my body; you sure as hell won't see someone like me in a magazine.
I thought this guy was different. I thought us being friends made us closer, made each other see who we really are. But all that was bullshit because he's not into me, simple as that.
I tried carving myself to fit their mold, his structure, her image. And then this boy comes along. He likes to read, spend time with his family. He actually cares about the world around him. He's just like me. All those late night conversations, all those funny moments, all those times up until the night I told him how I felt, he knew the real me. That was when my structure grew weak. It couldn't handle my honesty, my openness, me willing to grow closer to another individual. It was a sign for me to give up and forget about this guy. Now i get it.
I was naked; nothing covering who I really was. There was no saw, no hammer, no knife to peel away the real me. No broom to sweep away the scraps. I gave them all up while he looked at me. I was raw, and I wanted him to know that. I wanted to add him onto my structure; let him see a side of me people didn't know. I didn't want him to think my structure was hollow. I made my own structure instead of fitting his.
But Instead of building his structure with mine, he took the shavings i shared with him and sprinkled them over me, reminding me of all my faults, all my problems, all my doubts.
Like every other guy I know, he only sees me as a friend. I told myself I'd never get close with anyone again because i don't want to get burned.
Yet I keep on moving forward, my structure trying to keep it together. I thought he cared.
It's too late now. I feel him pushing me towards the fire. My structure's falling apart, and I'm already burning with the flames.
Just don't pity me, learn from me. Don't get burned. Know matter how many times you want to give in, don't get burned.
Because after awhile, the structure slowly crumbles. You might think this time may be different.
"Stoplight" by Ashley Lee
Red light. Green light. Red light.
You know the game; where you're told when to stop, when to go, when to act. But me, I don't operate like that. See, my brain wasn't made to follow orders with color associations reflecting my own life.
Green light. This is the point where I feel free; where there are no strings attached; no tools to nail me down and show the real world who they expect me to be. It's a range clear of chaos, not this insanity; traffic called life.
Then without warning- red light. Stop what you're doing. Whether you believe it or not, you are being controlled. You are without a doubt being faced with your restrictions in life. You watch everyone else go in front of you; taking their own paths in life constructed specifically for their own road. But I don't want my life constructed by forces strong enough to control the street lights. So I slowly press down on the accelerator, trying not to bring attention to the fact I'm disobeying the game's rules. The cross traffic runs back and forth, and I feel this intense rush that makes me push on that accelerator. Being rebellious intoxicates me. My eyes go wide, I feel the tickles of sweat under my fingers as I grip the steering wheel, and I go. I'm carving out my own damn path; stopping and going where I please.
But my rebelliousness catches up with me because now, ten cars are flying towards me, sirens are going off, and I find myself crushed upside down in the middle of an intersection. I tried carving out my own route, manipulating what I thought to be was my inescapable high way in life, and ran with it. I said green light when it was red light. But that's the thing; no matter how hard I try to re-construct my own road in this game, the rules come back and find me till I'm begging to have my own road built the way it was meant to be. See, they have the map with the winding streets my road clashes with. Too bad for me, I'm only aware of my own.
The light turns green.
I'm not ready.
"Two Towns" by Erin Lin
Somewhere in between the first breath and the last breath, two towns were built. Both had been built by an ingenious man of great skill and both were beautiful in their own right. There would be no need to describe the stones, the bricks or the flowers and the grass that were arranged in this way or that nor was there any need to mention the houses and whether or not they were one story or two. It was just like any other town and because of that reason; it was also why it was not. * * * He walked out keeping his head low as the wind bit against his cheek, freezing what little warmth his body had left. Centimeters of snow had fallen, leaving the pavement covered in a thin dusting of white. The houses alongside the street were silent but illuminated slightly from the Christmas trees that were dazzled in a bright shine of red and green. No one was running around this late at night on Christmas Eve, leaving the sounds of his feet crunching into the snow the only echoes reverberating through the neighborhood. There was no particular destination or reason for this journey, but to a spectator, it seemed as if he was genuinely busy and occupied to get to a neighbor’s or to celebrate the last hours of Christmas Eve with a family member. He passed by a sign flickering in neon lights that read, “Miss Jensen’s” and underneath it, a poster written in bubbly letters said, “Free pie on Christmas Eve!” Through the shop, the muffled sounds of “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree” could be heard through the glass. He grabbed the door handle and walked in to see a red headed waitress with an apron tied tightly around her waist turn towards him with tired and sleep deprived eyes.
“Charlie! Why, it’s good to see you.” She brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes. “Like some coffee? I just put on a fresh pot a couple minutes ago.” She went behind the counter before he could respond and sat him down by the bar and poured the liquid into a nearby cup. He watched the steam rise and placed his hands above it, feeling the warmth spread through his palms and fingertips.
“Thanks.” He poured some sugar and cream and mixed it together. The waitress eyed him as if expecting him to hurriedly drink it but he sat there, gazing mindlessly into the cappuccino colored liquid that was swirling around in a circle. Her eyes darted from him to the coffee and then back to him before she finally spoke.
“Well, you’re just in time. We were just about to close up but since we still got some free pie, would you like one?”
He looked into the fridge and saw one piece of cherry pie that looked terribly mutated by some sharp kitchen knife.
The waitress chuckled softly.
“The Smith’s bought at least eight this morning for their family get together. Thought we’d never be able to get through all of it.” She flopped the piece onto the plate and in the process, several cherries went overboard and hit the dirty tile floor with a soft splat. “You got any family visiting for Christmas?” she asked, ignoring the mess she made. Charlie picked up his fork and began using the edge as a knife, cutting the pie into thirds.
“Nah, not that I know of.” He set his fork down and put his hands around the cup of coffee, rubbing it into his skin so that he could unthaw them even further. She glanced at his untouched food, then began wiping down the counter with an old towel rag. The song on the radio had gotten louder and soon Mary began humming along to “Santa Baby” while clearing up the dishes and dumping them in the washer. She dusted her hands off the front of her apron and cleared her throat.
“You’re welcome to stay for a few more minutes but we’re going to close up pretty soon.” She pursed her lips then sighed. “You gonna finish that?” Charlie looked at what she was pointing at and shook his head. She grabbed the pie and coffee and disappeared behind the revolving door. He reached into his front pocket, grabbed a crumpled up dollar from beneath a blue button, several tickets and scraps of paper and tossed it on the counter to pay for the coffee. As he head out he heard the radio change abruptly to the beginning of “Silent Night” but without giving the singer a moment to start belting out the first note, he walked out with the door closing softly behind him.
He walked like a man who had just left a bar drunk with liquor. His feet grazed the ground as if it took every inch of his power to pull his left foot in front of his right. There was a crazed look about his face that gave the sense that he was looking for something in the darkness and the street light that was giving off a silvery glow was not helping him with whatever it was he was venturing for. It wasn’t until he came upon a stream that surprisingly still ran with the same force and rush as it did in the spring, did he stop and stare at the water gushing over the rocks as if they had a place to go and were urgent at reaching their destination. Without thinking, he took of his shoes and socks, and stepped into the water. Expecting the frozen chill of pain to shoot into his leg, Charlie frowned that he was in fact, quite warm and comfortable. Slowly, he bent his knees and submerged himself into the water, gasping sharply for a breath of air before going under. He felt the brush of the current move against his skin, the distinct muffling of the rushing water and the thoughts running in and out through his head finally stopped as if he had just pressed a pause button and froze all incoming traffic from bombarding his mind. * * * The sun was shining quite brightly when he woke up and although the snow was still on the ground and the trees still bare and naked to the bark, the air was absent of the endless cold. He was lying on the other side of the stream with his clothes completely dry and his feet still lacking in shoes. He lay there for a minute, staring at the sky, wondering how exactly he ended up dry, alive and even conscience of what happened the night before. As he slowly got up, Charlie looked around, and noticed his shoes and socks lying neatly in the snow next to him. After putting them on, Charlie lifted up the ends of his pants to his knee, and walked across the stream to head back to the town. The stores were all bright, glistening in the shine of the sun and as he walked down the street, the persistent smell of freshly baked bread with the sting of cinnamon mixed with sugar and nutmeg seeped through the opening and closing door of Miss Jensen’s bakery. Several kids stood by the sidewalk watching the assortment of cakes drizzled over in frosting and the pies filled with the soft delectable insides of apple, peach, mango and cherry. The snow began to fall again, but this time it was light, and it gave the impression of sugar dust being drizzled gently onto the roofs, hats, pavement and tips of children’s tongues. Charlie stepped into the restaurant noticing a mini Christmas tree with tiny assorted color presents underneath it by the cashier and a calendar that had the 25th of December circled in red ink and in bubbly cursive next to the side the words, ‘Happy Birthday Baby Jesus!’ The radio speakers reverberated with the song In Excelsis Deo while a brown haired little boy with freckles mimicked the singer’s enthusiasm in the song by pronouncing his lips in a round O while singing in falsetto. Men and women flooded the restaurant trying to get into line, some with their money at hand and others talking enthusiastically to those around them. Charlie walked over to the counter and slid into the red barstool. A red headed waitress walked in and set her plate of buttercream Christmas cookies onto the table.
“Back again? Better than what you saw last night, isn’t it?” She gazed around the restaurant taking in the sight of people chatting and eating. “Hope you didn’t have any trouble going back home, it was pretty late once you set out. Here, have a cookie.” Mary placed the tray in front of him, and watched as he took a tiny piece and bit the corner of it.
“Thanks.” He chewed and took in another bite. “Um, yeah it wasn’t a big deal. Wandered here and there before going home.” No doubt the lie was to cover up his own curiosity on his whereabouts.
An overweight man sitting with his wife, called for a quick cup of coffee, and as Mary set off to gather the cups, Charlie wondered how exactly, he had gotten out of the stream. Surely, he had gotten out himself, for there was no other logical explanation as to why he hadn’t drowned from the lack of oxygen. His clothes had dried mysteriously in the middle of winter and since he had no memory of getting out of the water, what had happened in between the time he was in the stream to when he got out?
“Oh, I forgot.” Startled, Charlie looked up at a flustered Mary wringing her hands nervously. “I didn’t get you a Christmas present. I’m so sorry Charlie, I completely forgot about it. I was wrapping and then—oh!” She gasped and went behind the door to the kitchen. After several seconds, she returned with a basket stuffed with hot rolls, cold cut sandwiches, several apples, and little miniature candy canes each with pink ribbons tied around them.
“It was a present for me actually, but since I work around baked goods all day, seeing more of them at my house can make me a little nauseous,” she whispered.
Charlie fidgeted uncomfortably in his seat. “You really didn’t have to, honestly. I didn’t get you any—.”
She cut him off.
“No, no, I insist. Please. And you need to promise me you’ll eat it. I’ve seen you starve yourself basically every day and I wonder how exactly you don’t flop over dead.” Mary started gathering the dirty plates and cups into the washer. A woman with blonde curly hair and a button down jacket walked in and ordered an assortment of snowman designed cupcakes.
She looked over at him while she placed the desserts into a take home box and added, “Food is as much help to the soul as it is to the body.”
Charlie started to speak but nodded and mumbled a small thank you. She smiled slightly and watched him walk off with his basket at hand and leave the shop with the sound of the bell hanging over the door ring as he closed the door behind him.
He had thought in his subconscious that what had occurred the night before was in fact, a suicide attempt. There was nothing in his mind at the time screaming out the word suicide but the fact that he had left his body and life completely vulnerable by giving himself up to the relentless force of nature had given him no reason as to not consider killing himself a possibility. To be quite frank, there was nothing that caused him to react and turn away from Death. He never truly longed for it and yet at the same time, he had no desire to resist the inevitable. Charlie didn’t realize how far he had walked as he reflected but by the time he noticed, he was standing in front of the church. The sunlight gleamed off of the cross placed at roof of the building and several people walked out from the front entrance in a noisy manner, chatting away at those around them about the absolutely delightful Christmas service that had just taken place. As they departed, Charlie stared at the door, with its rusty golden handlebars and took a hesitant step forwards, with one hand at the railing. Guiding himself along, he approached the white door and pulled it open.
Inside, a Christmas tree with tinsel, snowflake ornaments, sparkling blue and red lights draped over its fir was rooted at the side of the sanctuary. A large wooden cross hung in midair over the stage making it seem as if it was to be looked upon with awe and wonder. Several candles were lit beneath the mosaic painting of the Virgin Mary holding the infant baby Jesus almost as if to illuminate it by man-made light rather than with genuine sunlight. Without understanding why, he walked to the middle row and sat down, staring at the painting in quiet admiration. He had no idea why he had wanted to come in here. Ever since his mother’s death he had forgotten about God, forgotten about anything and everything that had to do with His marvelous creations. He felt nothing at all when he stared at the painting, other than how talented the painter was and such a waste it must be to draw for something that did not exist, or rather, did not hold much truth within it. Charlie rose up, and began walking back towards the door when a voice stopped him.
“Young man, service has just ended. But you are perfectly welcome to stay for prayer.”
Charlie turned and saw an old man wearing a collared grey shirt and black pants walk towards him. His face was weathered but gentle, and the creases around his eyes were quite prevalent while he spoke in his calming and soft voice.
“Uh, no. I was just admiring the painting,” Charlie replied.
The old man nodded. “Its quite beautiful, isn’t it? Looks even better when the sunlight hits it.” The pastor searched his face with his gray eyes and cleared his throat. “Young man, you seem to be lost.”
“Yes, are you sure you’re alright?” The old man frowned as Charlie kept his head down and his attention on the floor as if he was being reprimanded like a little five year old.
“Uh, n-no…” The word was muttered but in the large sanctuary, it seemed to become amplified ten times its original noise.
“Tell me,” the pastor said softly. “Why are you here?”
Suddenly, it was as if the question had triggered the lifting of a weight engulfed deep within his chest. Charlie let out an abrupt gasp before wringing his fingers erratically and anxiously. He scanned the room with large eyes as if seeing it for the first time and quickly stumbled into one of the pews to sit. The sound of his exaggerated breathing echoed the walls of the church and created an even more ominous aura having the Virgin Mary watch him as he stumbled into another panic attack. He held his head in his hands and threw his entire top half of his body downwards, gasping for air as if he was suffocating in an air locked box. His voice gave in to a sob that seemed to burst forth from the core of his heart and as the first tears fell to the floor with a tiny splat, he looked up at the pastor, who endured a calm composure throughout the entire episode, and muttered the words, “God, help me.” * * * In the middle of a dense forest, lying near a river and centered around a large weeping willow, a town was built. Love and cherished by the residents, the town was indescribably a home. The Christmas holiday had ended leaving the famously delicious Mrs. Jensen’s bakery shop emptied of all scones, pies, muffins and intoxicating smells. The school was still closed and would stay vacant until after New Year’s Day but as the snow built up against the windowpanes and doors, the building gave off a glum and fairly distant atmosphere. Something the students knew far too much about. Just a little ways off of the cemetery was the spotless church. Its glow was radiant next to the snow on the ground and as the worshippers departed, the lights turned off one by one leaving the white building looking incredibly ominous from its darkened interiors. It was on this day that the body of Charlie Anderson would be found lying in the river, his lips blue and his skin frighteningly pale. It was, however, a most peculiar sight to see that his piercing grey eyes were open and in its far gaze, he stared upwards toward the sky as if enchanted by something that was approaching him from above. A day later, as his body was being prepared for the funeral, the mortician had tried to the very best of his ability to make Charlie’s appearance comfortable and agreeable for those who would be taking part in the service. Carefully, the body was washed and rinsed, the hair combed over, make-up was applied to cover the translucent skin and finally dry clothes were slipped on to make the corpse look far more presentable. As the finishing touch, the eyelids were lowered to give off the pretense that he was merely in a deep sleep, but even as the procession of mourners piled into the church to send their regards and goodbyes to their late neighbor and friend, a ripple of murmurs cascaded throughout the crowd as they came in full view of the open casket. Lying on the satin bed of his coffin, was a smiling Charlie Anderson with his eyes wide open staring straight up at the ceiling where the wooden cross dangled from midair.
"The Girl with the Golden Nails" by Veronica Mickley
I first met her in kindergarten, when we sat at the same table. She bounded in everyday with shining blue eyes and a smile that was too big for her heart-shaped face, and her little blonde pigtails seemed to bounce merrily for the entire day. I still remember her pink, plaid dress with the kittens on the pockets, and her shiny, white Mary Janes always made the other girls jealous. But what I remember most about her was her fingernails.
They were painted a glossy gold, and they gleamed and flashed whenever she moved her hands. I never saw a single mistake or blotch on them; they always looks perfectly manicured and new, like a professional had done them right before school. And they were always gold. Every day she came in with the same shade, like she had a never-ending supply. She didn't use an ordinary gold polish, either. As a kid, I thought she had set a block of gold on each finger and melted it down until each nail was perfectly covered. Now that I'm older, I still think that. I wondered how anyone could be so lucky to have gold to spare just for their nails. And she was lucky, the luckiest kid I had ever met. Her world seemed perfect, but I eventually learned that it wasn't.
The first time I ever saw her without a perfect manicure was in second grade. We had just returned from winter break, so our teacher gave us new seating arrangements. I was across the aisle from her, with a perfect view of her shining nails. Except they didn't seem so shiny anymore. By the end of the day, I had realized that the pinky finger on her right hand was chipped, with just a fleck of gold missing from the tip.
I locked in on that finger, and as the week progressed, more of her real nail became visible. I came into school on Friday expecting the pinky to be completely devoid of any polish, but when I sat down, I saw that it was painted perfectly again. None of her nails were chipped, and the sheen they had before break had returned. I was slightly disappointed; I had wanted to see how long it would take for every nail to lose its polish. She saw me staring at her fingers and grinned, wiggling them so the light reflected off the gold.
When we lined up for recess later, I slipped behind her and her friend, the frizzy-haired one. On our march through the hallways I heard her tell the story of how her dog ran away during the holidays and had mysteriously turned up last night, even though they had given up searching. If it was anyone else's dog who was gone for that long, I would've said it was a goner. But somehow, I wasn't surprised to learn that hers had found its way home. She was just lucky that way.
By middle school she had ditched her pigtails for a stick-straight bob that came just past her chin. Her overly-wide smile had started to fit her face better, and the enviable Mary Janes had been replaced by classic Keds sneakers, with one pair in a different color for every day of the week. Amidst all her personal changes, there was one constant in her life: her golden nails. They were like her best friend, something she couldn't get rid of and didn't want to get rid of. I had the strange idea that she had been born with her nails painted in that perfectly shimmering shade, and that her life's memories were embedded just beneath the surface of the paint, creating the mesmerizing swirls and ephemeral glimpses of both light and shadows, reflecting the good and bad of her life. Unsurprisingly, the good far outshone the bad. I rarely saw the flashes of darkness, and when I did, they were gone in a heartbeat.
Her life depended on her nails, I decided. They helped her to maintain her grip on reality. Or maybe she didn't feel that way about them. Maybe it was just me. Because during seventh grade, I came to depend on that molten gold more than I had ever anticipated.
My mom filed for divorce from my dad in the summer between sixth and seventh grades. My dad let her go; he was desperate for an escape, too. In two short months, my life shattered. Not only did I lose my family, but I also lost my childhood home. My dad moved to the city, so I lived with my mom in her apartment. She made sure to rent one that would let me go to the same school. It's a good thing she did, because school is what saved me.
I walked in on the first day of seventh grade with a completely changed life. My dad was gone, my mom was different, and to top it all off, I found out that my best friend had moved across the country. Maybe we hadn't been as close as I thought. I didn't know who to trust or what to believe in. Then I saw her, with her frizz-free hair and her colorful shoes, and she wore a bright smile even though everyone else was glowering at the idea of having to think again. But I didn't care about any of that. Her nails were perfectly manicured, and I knew everything would turn out decently. My life may not be as perfect as hers, but I didn't expect it to be. Her golden fingernails reassured me in a way I never expected. They were a constant in my life, and there were few of those to be had. I always knew what to expect from them, and I always liked what I found. I doubt she saw what I did when I glanced down at them every day, but that was part of their magic.
They were magical; I knew it then, but it took the events of eighth grade to convince me entirely. It was almost the end of the year when I noticed little flakes of gold littering her desk. Puzzled, I looked up to see the polish on her left thumb was scratched and ragged, with a splotchy pattern of natural nail peeking between the remaining bits of gold. It was the first time since second grade that I had seen her without a perfect manicure, and I was at a loss as to the source. That is, until I stumbled upon her in the bathroom one day, with puffy, bloodshot eyes and a shimmering trail of tears down her face. What struck me most was the fact that her left hand, clutching a tissue and frantically dabbing her eyes, had three whole nails that were completely devoid of the golden paint.
When she realized I was there, she glared at me defiantly, her blue eyes struggling to see past the wall of water welling up inside them. With an angry sob, she broke and turned away from me, shoulders heaving. That was when I knew the cause of her distress, and of her chipped nails. Her parents were going through a divorce, just as mine had almost two years earlier. By the looks of her, it was a pretty nasty one. I don't know how I knew with such certainty. I suppose I just recognized signs of myself in her, because I had acted the exact same way, only I hadn't had the troubles of school to deal with at the same time. Wordlessly, I dug out my portable tissue pack from my backpack and laid it on the counter, giving it a little push in her direction. As I walked away, I saw a flash of gold as her right hand grabbed the packet, and I smiled.
I tried to convince myself that the reason for her declining nail care was the her mom didn't have money to spare on daily manicures. Divorces were an expensive business, after all. But somehow, I doubted that this was really the case. I thought back to that long-ago week of second grade, when her chipped nail coincided with her missing dog, and I thought about how her parent's divorce also caused her golden perfection to be ruined. They were both traumatizing events, I realized, and that was what caused the flaws in her nails. It wasn't a lack of money or an inefficient manicurist. Her nails reflected her emotions and what was happening in her life. To put it simply, the quality of her nails matched the quality of her life.
I didn't realize it then, but that revelation had enormous significance. Maybe it didn't mean much to anyone else, but as I look back now, I'm struck by the overwhelming perfection of her life. At that point in my life, I had known her for eight years, and in those eight years, her nails had only been ruined twice. Twice. And the first time, not even an entire nail had chipped away. Golden nails, golden life. A perfect fit. I can only imagine the kind of life she lived. A better one than I did, certainly. Lucky girl.
By the last day of eighth grade, which was two weeks after the bathroom incident, her nails were back to their perfectly golden selves again. She smiled more, and her eyes were no longer red and puffy. She looked just as she did before I saw those first flakes on her desk. From the gossip at lunch, I learned that her parents had decided to stay together and go into counseling. If counseling could've saved my parents' marriage, I would've forced it on them. Apparently it worked for her family, because the last thing I saw as I stepped off the bus ride home on the last day of middle school was her hand dangling out the bus' open window, the sunlight reflecting dazzlingly off her golden nails.
When I saw her next, it was well into freshman year. Like everyone else, she seemed to have grown up during summer break. Her makeup made her blue eyes pop even more, and every pair of shoes she wore had some kind of heel on them. Her blonde bob had grown into a long, layered style, but she thankfully refrained from the short, tight clothing the majority of girls seemed to favor. As always, her nails were painted gold.
I didn’t think she had remembered that day in the bathroom. If she didn’t truly forget, I figured she’d act otherwise. So I was surprised when she came up to me during passing period one day, squeezing between the cracks in the massive wall of people to end up at my side, the clacking of her heels lost to the gentle roar of the students around us. She gave me a bright smile, no longer wide and goofy but perfect, like seemingly everything else about her. Then she spoke to me.
“Here. I hope you never need them, but just in case.”
She pressed a new package of tissues into my hand, her nails scraping against my skin. Immediately she turned in the other direction, giving a little wave before being swallowed by the masses.
In that one wave, I saw how the gold glittered in the sunlight streaming through the window. It was a pure, solid color, not the swirly, wavering shade I had been accustomed to. The strength and consistency of its sheen could only mean one thing: she was happy. Really and truly happy, for the first time in quite a while. There were no shadows dancing beneath the surface, no ripples of sorrow or unease. Just happiness, plain and simple.
It wasn’t until later that I noticed the new pack of tissues she gave me were strawberry-scented, just as mine had been. At first I found it odd that she had been able to remember that little detail, considering her state at the time I had found her. But then I thought about it, and I figured I had found someone else who was just as observant as I was.
I had few classes with her in high school, and it wasn’t until junior year that we came face-to-face again. It was in physics, and she sat across from me at the lab table. Her gold nails greeted me every day, and she always sent a quick smile before resuming her perusal of the room. She did exactly what I did in class: looked around the room, never lingering too long on one specific thing, never paying attention to the lesson. Somehow, though, I doubted she needed tutors. She seemed naturally smart, yet another aspect of her perfect, golden life.
It was only a few months into the school year when I noticed her nails had begun to chip again. Not a lot, just a little on a ring finger and a bit off the thumb. She looked fine otherwise: same lustrous hair, same shining eyes. But when her manicure continued to deteriorate through the weeks, I knew something was wrong. I just didn’t know what.
The first physical signs, apart from the nails, came after winter break. She had shadows under her eyes, barely visible at first, but getting darker and darker. Her eyes stopped sweeping across the room and became darts, instead. Sharp, quick looks in one direction, then the other, constantly moving. Her hair thinned out a bit, and she smiled less. When she did, it seemed tight and forced. And still her golden nail polish continued to come away, to the point that only two fingers had any polish remaining.
These signs were so subtle, so prolonged, that I didn’t think anyone but me noticed. I knew for a fact her friends didn’t, because she had stopped talking to anyone. That would be a warning sign for me, but I guess her friends were used to it. She usually stumbled down the halls, wobbling in her heels, with shaky hands held out for balance. Again, this was all subtle. No one would think anything of it unless they knew to look for it. And if there was one thing I was good at, it was looking.
Finally I summed up my courage. It was the week after Valentine’s day, and a light layer of snow coated the ground. Our lab table was by the window, and she sat staring at the sparkling snow, seeing everything and nothing. A tiny flash of light reflected from just one nail, so faint that I wasn't entirely convinced it was there. I sat down and watched her, waiting for the right time. The teacher gave us time to start our homework at the end of class, and the room filled with noise as our peers dutifully neglected their assignment. I leaned across the table and spoke just three words, low enough that only she could hear.
"Are you okay?"
She turned her head to look at me, her eyes dulled to a murky blue-grey, the sleepless shadows beneath them threatening to engulf her. She just sat there, not making a sound. As I watched, the last speck of her golden nail polish fell from her finger, slipping down to rest upon the black tabletop. We both looked at it. I was concerned, yet she was expressionless. It was like she wasn't even there.
The next day, she wasn't. She didn't show up for the entire week, or the week after. Even the teacher seemed perplexed. Eventually, her absence became a natural part of the classroom. No one talked about her anymore, and the teacher stopped calling her name during attendance. I would see her friends in the hall and deliberately stand by them, trying to hear any information I could. But they never talked about her. They didn't even seem worried.
I replayed that last scene with her over and over in my mind. My question; her blank, empty look; and that small fleck of gold sitting baldly on the table.
No one saw her for the rest of the year. As far as I know, no one heard from her during that time either. Even in the summer, when she wouldn't have had to deal with the pressure of school, she remained hidden. Like a flame snuffed by a sudden gust of wind, she had ceased to exist.
Then, on the first day of our senior year, she was back. Just like that. No word of explanation as to where she had been or what had happened. Everyone opened themselves up to her as they had before, and she laughed and smiled easily, like she was her old self again. She looked the same as she did before: long blonde hair, bright blue eyes, perfect smile, flawless makeup. Even her clothes and shoes were the same, with her fashionably fitted outfits and stylish heels combining to make one effortless look. She truly had returned, and as far as her popularity was concerned, she was better than ever.
I was the only one to notice that her nails were painted black.
"I Actually Love Helen Keller Jokes" by Val Schwager
Sometimes I think hands are underappreciated. The subtle gradients of the fingernails, the sizes of the cuticles, the tiny hairs on the knuckles. The palms, with their wrinkles, crinkles, and lines. How the skin folds and creases with every single little finger movement. I’m no palm reader, nor some sort of fetishist, either—although some people might consider me to be both. My hands just act as my mouthpiece.
My world is muted.
I’ve spent all of my eighteen years so far staring at people’s hands—I cannot read lips for the life of me—so it makes sense that I’ve learned all of their nuances. Sign language is just that—a language. And like all other languages and the people that speak them, it even has accents. Some hands speak with fluidity; others can be more rough, or fractured. I’ve been told I talk big, with grand gestures, and fast; I’m often told to slow down, and I’ve accidentally hit bystanders on more than one occasion.
People who have been smacked by me may have different opinions, but I think signing is beautiful. I don’t care that I’m deaf, but that doesn’t mean I want to talk with my mouth. Generally, hands are much more appealing than teeth. Not that I’m against mouths—I like kissing my girlfriend’s very often—but I love holding her hands. Holding hands tends to be seen as a baby step towards kissing and intimacy for most people, but it’s different for us. It is for me, at least. It’s just as intimate as a kiss, and it has the same principle. When we lace our fingers together, we are silenced. But at the same time, it’s emotional and communicative—one hand squeeze can say a whole lot of things. Body language eventually turns into a sort of art form when you’ve been studying it as long as and intensely as I have. Hey, ladies, there’s a reason to date a deaf guy—we always know when you’re mad.
But beyond that, you really can tell a lot about a person from what isn’t coming from the mouth, or hands, or whatever they use to communicate with. Sure makes people-watching interesting. Of course, I can always tell when someone is judging me based on how I talk, but I don’t really care. Go on, judge me. Make fun of me.
You don’t know what you’re missing.
"Chains" by Zaq Swanson
Ever since I attached these weights to my legs, it's always been harder to return. I know, it doesn't sound like a very bright idea, but I knew that by doing so, it would make returning to the shore come more naturally when I take them off. Every week I find myself crawling back there, hoping that I have the strength to make it. I usually can find myself there, but I'm usually too worn out to enjoy the shore.
This used to be about what I wanted to do. I wanted to be here at the shore. This was my way of finding some form of inner peace that I would at least try to make last for a somewhat reasonable length of time, that is, before my inner chaos drove it out. I'm sure that if I went into the water that these chains would drag me down, or maybe rust.
I find myself standing still on the sand. I know that I'll have to get into the water to truly experience the shore, but I don't know if I can take the risk. Then again, if I don't, coming here would have been an absolute waste of time. I wade out into the water. Feeling the pull of the chains on my feet. They were supposed to be here to make sure I return, not kill me when I try to enter.
I'm out to where the water rises to my chest. Normally I'd start swimming, but I can't get my feet off the ground. The tide splashes water into my face, taunting me. I move forward. I accept the shore's challenge.
The waves crash above my head. I cannot break free of its grasp. I flail my legs about, trying to make some kind of distance between me and the rocks and sand beneath me, but without avail. I try to swim back to shallower waters, but some kind of currant draws me back out, further than where I was before. I can't breathe.
I try to loosen my chains. I don't know what I'm thinking; I cannot break out of these. I try to slide them off my ankles, but they catch on my feet, unable to be slipped free of. I feel myself going light-headed. A couple more seconds and I know I won't be able to make it. I lose consciousness.
At this point, I stop seeing through my own eyes. Of course I can't see, I'm not conscious, but I can still see... me. I can see myself shifting with the tide of the water, as though through the eyes of another. The water around me glows, bathing me in a pool of light. My hands move down to the chains. I don't realize that I'm moving them; I can just see my figure's arms moving. They reach for my irons. My hands emit a light so dazzling that I can't bear to look, although I cannot stop from seeing it. The chains also shine with this strange glow, but they slowly fade. When their light is gone, so are they. They just vanished without a trace. My body's head looks up towards the surface of the water, and without any more motion, soars to the water's edge, still robed in light.
The instant my head breaks free of the water, I snap back into my own awareness. I pant heavily, barely able to breathe, let alone remain afloat for much longer. This is not a problem though, because the waves carry me to shore as though I were no more than a piece of driftwood.
I land on the shore. I sit up; it's all that I can do at the moment. In front of me are a pair of feet. I look up to see if there is a person attached. And there she was.
She had found me.
"My Translucent Existence" by Daniel Thompson
Fear me not, for I have lived amongst you for quite some time now; I have simply hidden for all of these years. I am a shape shifter; my form is indefinite, my possibilities are endless. I lurk in the hallways and the street corners, at the gas stations, and at the theatres. You see, I am everywhere. I am a ubiquitous being. My presence can be felt in your classrooms and in the cafeteria; and just as you feel my company, I metamorphose and disappear from view.
You see, I engage in rudimentary functions of everyday life. My routine, the same one every high school student endures, is completely mundane. I sit in my seat, as commanded to, and fall in line with each and every one of you. You might recall me being in your English class, or perhaps even in your Science lab. However, despite my seemingly standard way of life, I have developed and grown differently than the majority. I have been categorized into an anomalous subspecies of the human existence.
Yes, apparently I am of a translucent breed; I am certain that I exist, for I can feel the coarse hair of my face; I can recognize the flaws of my appearance; I can touch the intermittent texture of my skin; I apprehend that there is blood flowing through my veins. My heart pulsates, and my lungs ascend and descend. I am certain that my neurons transmit signals and commands to my joints and my limbs, for how could I put the ink to the script?
And yet, you never see me. How is that? Some claim that it was a birth defect; yet, I have a hard time grasping this concept, for one does not simply get born with the translucent characteristic--one develops into a translucent character. Society tried to mould me into some pseudo-perfect being; how I resisted! I am flawed, I am imperfect; and yes, I enjoy it all. I loathed the idea of perfection, simply, because it was not attainable; society refuses to cease its pursuit of perfection, blind to the pure fallacy of it all, and they refuse to see me for who I am.
Ah, but I see them. That's the point, isn't it? A generation taught to fight and claw for recognition, for identification. Indoctrinated in conformity just as they are read bedtime stories of how unique and precious they must be. And conform they do! How pathetic they are, all submitting to the pressure of society-- can they not think for themselves? Why is it, that they all seek recognition, that they long for assimilation? Have you ever known a translucent man to adhere to the superficiality? I think not. I can see past your frivolous ways, you scoundrels.
You see, when one leads a life of translucency, the truth is so apparent; the philosophies of life are attained by merely observing my surroundings, for it is so advantageous not to be seen in society! I am one of you; I walk on the same streets you walk; I attend the same schools you attend; I eat the same food you eat; yet, I possess a trait that not even the wisest possess--it is that of acumen. You see, without me, there would be nobody to remind you of your flaws--I see life in a way that you might not even fathom. Yes, I am faulty; I am deficient; I am irrational; I am misunderstood; so please, excuse me for impeding on your perfection. Some might call translucency a curse, but I believe it to be good fortune.
The next time you see me, please don’t mourn. In fact, rejoice in my presence; understand that I have embraced my translucency. For once a man develops into a translucent character, his perspective is discerning; I can see life with a brilliant prospect, and I can acknowledge the sheer beauty of nature and terrestrial life. My vision is as clear as the pure waters of the Ganges, my knowledge as vast as the Serengeti Plain. Do not fear me. Embrace me.
"An Ode to Level-Headedness" by Patti Wallinga
The President is a Muslim.
It's 2076, and the President of the United States is Faisal Mahdi, and he is a Muslim. The Capitol hasn't sprung minarets and the Bible belt is still full of old people with Bibles and we aren't all fluent in Arabic, although it's a common option in schools alongside Spanish and French and Mandarin Chinese. It's just that the President is a Muslim.
There was one who was a black man a while back, and some people were mad about that. And then there was one who was a woman, and half the country didn't take her seriously. Then there was an Asian guy, and only the truly out-of-it made jokes about his overachieving parents or his ability to do math. And then that Hispanic woman got elected, and so few were surprised when things all of a sudden started working again. And there were a few white guys in between that nobody really remembers. Now the President is a Muslim.
Sometimes the media gets a photo release of the President and his two teenage daughters, one of whom has chosen to wear a hijab and one of whom has not. Sometimes meetings are interrupted for prayers. President Mahdi and his wife still have a Christmas tree in keeping with tradition, but they also have an Eid al-Fitr party every year that is out of this world. I've heard the White House chef makes fantastic hummus. There are old traditions and there are new traditions, because the President is a Muslim.
It's 2076. The President is a Muslim, and nobody really cares.